John Narer's 50-foot Norwegian Spruce has become a Christmas tradition in the Pasadena community. Decorated with 56,000 incandescent lights, 6,000 more than this year's 72-foot Rockefeller Tree in New York City, it can be seen from hundreds of feet away.
What sets Narer's decorated tree apart from others is the amount, and placement, of lights illuminating each branch, defining every inch of the tree. His systematic approach to decorating leaves visitors in awe.
Narer's tree has remained virtually uncut since it was planted in 1986.
"Nature gave me the perfect palette," he said.
For 20 years, Narer and his wife, Sharon, have continued the tradition "for the community and the children who come to run around it."
From now until Sunday, "The Tree," 204 Ullman Road, will be lit 5:30-10 p.m. each night weather permitting. There's still time to visit the popular destination before the lights are shut off until next December.
With brand new lights covering most of his tree, Narer said, "this year it's as good as it will ever look."
"The Tree" became a local social media celebrity this year. A letter written by Narer and Sharon explaining the facts and history of the local landmark was shared online by many.
In the letter, Narer details the history of the tree beginning in 1986 when his twin sister "insisted" he purchase a Christmas tree. "I fought the idea," he wrote, "but in the end I went to Diehl's Produce stand in Severna Park and bought a tree."
He purchased what he thought was a small shrub planted in a cup of dirt, just 18 inches tall. The "Charlie Brown" tree was decorated with 15 lights, a dozen ornaments and a hand towel utilized as a tree skirt.
He decided to plant the tree in his front yard. Over the next decade, it grew slowly.
Later, he discovered his evergreen wasn't a shrub but a Norwegian Spruce capable of growing more than 125 feet tall and living up to 200 years.
Narer was inspired to start decorating the tree in 1998 after seeing the "perfect" Christmas tree along Pasadena Road owned and decorated by Herb Sappington.
"That gave me the idea to put lights on this one for the first time," he said.
Narer garnished his tree with 900 lights and one extension cord the first year. As the tree grew, so did Narer's ambition.
Narer replaces hundreds of strands of lights every three to four years as the tree outgrows them, leaving a dark outline. This year, he replaced roughly 400 strands and reused hundreds more. It takes about 560 strands to light the entire tree.
Starting in August, Narer constructed scaffolding to remove and replace the lights on the first 30-feet of the tree. Scaffolding had to be reconstructed four times to reach every side. The last 20-feet were decorated using a rented boom lift.
The bridge engineer allotted himself 12 strands of lights each day so he wouldn't become overwhelmed by the elaborate three-month process.
Lights in good shape are reused on the bottom six feet of the tree; hundreds more are stored in old grocery bags inside his garage.
Atop the tree is a lit star Narer constructed using wood affixed to a steel pipe. To ensure the star is sturdy enough to withstand wind and weather, he attached it with screws to the tree trunk.
The tree receives power through extension cords on the trunk of the tree, leading from the house. Every few feet, there are receptacles providing electricity to each light strand. The electricity required to light the tree is twelve 20-amp circuits, enough to power a house.
Narer doesn't want to disclose how much his electric bill increases each holiday season, but says he's thankful to be able to afford the payments.
The lights are kept on the tree year round.
"I'd be institutionalized if I had to put it up and down every year," he joked.
The Narers regularly receive Christmas cards and thank you notes from people in the community who appreciate their efforts to maintain the tradition.
A breast cancer survivor wrote a note stating "The Tree" is her "favorite part of Christmas." She visited the landmark while undergoing chemotherapy to brighten her day.
Another woman sent them a note explaining "The Tree" had become a holiday tradition for her and her late husband. After his death, she has continued to visit the landmark because it inspires "a better future."
"It's so neat to hear the stories and how much joy (the tree) brings to them," Sharon said.
"The Tree" was the setting for two marriage proposals this year.
Groom-to-be Mike Chisolm wrote Narer a letter asking for permission to propose to his girlfriend in front of the lit tree. Narer endorsed the proposal and Chisolm's love interest said "yes."
The second proposal occurred on a rainy night. Initially, Narer decided not to turn the lights on as a safety precaution. However, when he noticed a large group of people gathering outside in the rain waiting for the tree to be lit, he flipped the switches on.
The young man kneeled in the mud to pop the question; his girlfriend said "yes."
A rumor was spread on social media claiming this would be the final year "The Tree" would be lit, but Narer says that's not true. He foresees being able to redecorate the tree at least one more time.
As he replaced the lights this summer, Narer, 58, thought "there's no way I'm doing this again."
However, he's had a change of heart.
"After seeing the response this year, I think I can at least get one more time out of me," he revealed.
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